JAFCO Support

Buyout

Spin-out based on promising potential of energy management technology

  • Operational/ capital tie-up arrangement
  • ,
  • Strategic proposal/ implementation

Sep 26, 2017

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About Taro Tadano, CEO

After graduating from the Department of Electrical Engineering of Tokyo Metropolitan University in 1991, Mr. Tadano joined Sony Corporation, where he was responsible for video system development, business planning and overseas marketing. From 2010, he headed the home energy network business at the R&D division. He established Informetis in April 2013, assuming the office of CEO.

About Informetis

Company name

Informetis Co., Ltd.

Founded

April 2013

Services

Provider of home IoT solutions through electric power data analysis

History

At Sony

1999

Developed and commercialized AIBO, the world’s first AI robotic pet

2009

R&D in the field of energy

2010

NILM (Non-Intrusive Load Monitoring) derived from AI Technology

2011

Participated in Pecan Street Project, a smart grid verification testing in the US

Informetis

2013

Spin-out with NILM technology transferred from Sony, established Informetis

2015

Demonstration experiments of a new service with TEPCO
Established R&D center in Cambridge, UK

Providing device usage data to enable convenient and safe lifestyle

Informetis’ device disaggregation and estimation service provides the usage data of individual home appliances. It allows consumers to know how many watts are consumed by each device, such as a PC, a TV, etc., whereas before, they were only informed of the total power consumption at home.
The usage data acquired through the disaggregation and estimation technology are not a mere data of energy consumption. Analysis by Metis App Engine, the company’s data mining technology based on the cutting-edge AI technology, visualizes lifestyle patterns and produces big data that enables more convenient and safer living.
We launched an in-home monitoring service for the elderly using the device disaggregation technology following the announcement of a tie-up with TEPCO Energy Partner in October 2016. The service allows family members to casually monitor well-being of their aging, geographically distant parents by watching the operating status of washing machines, cooking appliances, etc. Communications between monitoring families/ monitored parents are also possible using a dedicated app.
With Marubeni, we concluded a sales contract for Home Snapshot, a household IoT information service, and a dedicated sensor for disaggregation/ estimation. The service can also be used to “visualize” solar power generation at home by reporting the amounts of solar electricity generated/ sold.
In May 2017, we released SmaMeII-Type HP, a smart meter for general industrial use applying our high-precision disaggregation/ estimation technology. Our first goal is to expand the uses of our technology and build a track record, and advance into overseas markets after 2-3 years.

Business development using electric smart meter

Services currently under operation:
1. Home Snapshot (visualization of device usage)
2. In-house monitoring service with TEPCO Energy Partner
3. Joint operation of IoT platform with TEPCO Power Grid

Home Snapshot offers a daily snapshot of energy usage in your home. The total and itemized breakdown of energy consumption can be viewed on an hourly basis on users’ smartphones using our company’s smart sensor installed within fuseboards at home. This service is offered to house builders/ renovation companies for use by household equipment makers.

In-house monitoring service is povided by TEPCO Energy Partner based on our technology.

The idea of this service was born during the demonstration experiments of our smart meter targeting 300 households, jointly conducted with TEPCO Energy Partner over one year period from 2015. On users’ smartphones, energy saving information/ tips are displayed—for example, “you’ve used (this much) more electricity compared to yesterday,” or “(these measures) can be taken to improve energy efficiency,” etc. What we realized through these experiments was that people got bored easily with day-to-day energy information. This was within our expectations, because the power usage breakdown does not change drastically on a daily basis.
However, we also found an interesting phenomenon through these experiments. The smartphone app of this service displays the real-time usage status of individual electric appliances on a separate page. It shows the usage record of individual appliances, letting users know from what time to what time each appliance was used. Many users checked this page every day, if not almost every day.
Why was this page viewed so frequently? We conducted interviews with the users, and found out that working mothers and fathers, who want to keep an eye on what’s happening at home, often checked the operational status of home appliances to find out what time their children got home, etc.
On my way home from work, I open the app on the train and check the operating status of my home appliances. For example, if the rice cooker started at 6:00 pm as usual, I’d think that my family must have started eating at around 6:30 pm, or if the TV is on, I’d assume that they’re having family time after dinner.
Although each home appliance has an operating pattern, we can deliver contents that change on a daily basis. During the experiments, many people went to the page to check on their family at home, for example, to make sure that children are not watching TV when they should be preparing for an upcoming test.
Of course, energy companies, too, can make use of the data offered by this service for optimum electricity supply, but for users, the page that shows the usage status of each home appliance is more useful than the power consumption data.
I believe this is a type of in-home monitoring services. It can be used to monitor elderly people, but can also be used to check on college kids living alone, and for other various uses.

Device disaggregation technology provides us with a first mover merit in the IoT era

The way I use the usage data of consumer electronics, that is to check what’s happening at home from a distance, may be different from what other people imagine from the word “monitoring service.” We call this usage of monitoring in-home activities “awareness.” Target users vary including double income households, students living alone, couples living separately because of work, and expats living overseas and apart from their family. I’m expecting that a market for this service, which offers casual awareness to things happening at home through the appliance usage data, not by a surveillance camera, will develop faster than those for other uses.
In 5 years’ time, I’m assuming the infrastructure business with TEPCO Power Grid will expand. Instead of providing a monitoring service, we plan to incorporate our technology in more upstream processes of electricity supply to allow users to select services they need at home and in the office. Not to mention awareness-type services, we could also offer an appliance alert service that informs users of aging appliances—for example, that they would be able to more than recoup the purchase cost of a new refrigerator in three years if they replace the old one, or if any of their appliances are subject to a recall, etc.
Connection with voice-user interface and home assistant bots would also be possible. We wish to create a new world at home through the wider use of these functions.
It is said that a new world based on a sensor network, where all consumer electronics are connected to a network, will arrive. However, people do not replace large consumer electronics for over 10 years, so how long will it take for IoT appliances to proliferate? As we look 10 years from now, we are in an advanced position to create various services and values from the device usage data because our technology can be used with a 10-year-old rice cooker, etc.
When the IoT era arrives, we will be able to offer even better services as we will have created new values and converted the data for use with IoT ahead of rivals.

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Spin-out from Sony based on promising potential of disaggregation technology

I joined Sony in 1991 as an electric engineer and worked for a long time in the engineering field. When I became 30, my interest in business management led me to go to a business school and got me to transfer to the business development division.
Around 2010, Sony focused on creating new businesses that leverage Sony’s information technology in the fields of healthcare/ medicine, environmental energy, etc. I volunteered and became the leader of a new energy-related business.
I had no energy-related background, but Sony was expecting an IT expert like me to come up with new ideas in the field of environmental energy. I thought this was a very interesting way to trigger R&D breakthrough.
However, around 2012, Sony’s business environment turned hostile, and it was forced to concentrate on audio/ visual/ game/ video/ camera businesses. It could no longer afford to invest in new technology seeds that required entirely new sales/ development teams and a totally new customer base. We were on the verge of shelving our device disaggregation technology.
Having spent two years in developing the new business, I was convinced that the device disaggregation technology would contribute to new value creation. I had already made up my mind to start up this business as I felt the strong need for an energy management system that would serve as a solution for ever-challenging global environmental problems.
When I consulted with Sony’s top executives, I was told that if outside energy professionals agreed that this business was worth developing, than they would give approval. I immediately started seeking for external support to allow a spin-out from Sony.
That was when I met a JAFCO member who understood my vision more deeply than any other people I met and supported us in realizing what we wished to do to the extent possible.

Spending more time with JAFCO member than with our families

Our company worked in tandem with JAFCO from the business planning stage.
In corporate management, business and money, including fundraising and expansion strategies, are the two driving wheels. As you’re expected to have a long relationship with a fund from whom you receive an investment, what matters in the end is whether the fund would be a reliable, long-time partner.
As in the case of other startup companies, we had several options before deciding to accept investment from JAFCO. What made us decide in the end was the faith we had in the JAFCO member.
We knew we couldn’t go wrong with JAFCO, which understood what we wanted to do more than any other potential investors. JAFCO has not only provided growth capital, but has also sent the member as a director in our company.
The JAFCO member is almost always present at company meetings. As our company consists mainly of engineers, we lack personnel with business experience. JAFCO’s advice based on its expertise is a big support for us. The JAFCO member also participates in discussions on product development and planning. We often said “we spend more time together than with our families.”(lol)
Including me, most of our staff was involved in R&D activity at major firms, so it wasn’t easy at first to optimize each member’s mindset and our corporate functions to match those of a venture business. We’ve come a long way before finally launching the service.
For those who have plans to start up their own businesses, my advice would be “choose the right person.” Ask yourself, “Who do you want to work with?” This would serve as a criterion for choosing the “right person.”

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(Translation of Japanese original posted on September 5, 2017)